Sandiganbayan clears military, police officers in ‘Morong 43’ case
MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan on Friday acquitted police and military officials over the alleged illegal detention and torture of 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal in 2010.
The STAR reported that the anti-graft court’s 7th Division granted the accused’s demurrer to evidence that led to the junking of the case.
Sandiganbayan 7th Div junks criminal cases vs police & military officers involved in the alleged illegal arrest and detention of 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal in February 2010. | @marcelo_beth
— The Philippine Star (@PhilippineStar) July 19, 2019
A demurrer to evidence is a pleading that challenges the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence against the accused. It paves the way for the dismissal of the case halfway through the trial, without the accused having to present their counter-evidence.
The following were cleared of illegal detention charges:
- Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia
- Ret. Army Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad
- Brig. Gen. Joselito Reyes
- Col. Cristobal Zarahgza
- P/Sr. Supt. Marion Balonglong
- P/Sr. Supt. Allan Nobleza
- P/Maj. Jovily Cabading
They were facing eight counts each of violation of Republic Act 7438, which defines the rights of those arrested, detained or are under custodial investigation as well as the duties of arresting, detaining and investigating officers.
According to the The STAR report, the Sandiganbayan held that the Office of the Ombudsman’s prosecution team failed prove that the “Morong 43” had a lawyer at the time of their arrest or during their detention.
The case stemmed from the alleged refusal of the military and police officers to allow the health workers to confer with a lawyer while in detention.
According to RA 7438, “any person arrested detained or under custodial investigation shall at all times be assisted by counsel.” This right is also stated in the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution.
“If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one,” the constitution also states.
The “Morong 43” are the 43 health workers, accused of being communist rebels, who were arrested in February 2010 on charges of illegal possession of explosives.
They claim that they were tortured in the ten months they were detained. The DOJ later withdrew the charges against them.
NUPL: Ruling ‘stranger than legal fiction’
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, who stood as legal counsel of the Morong 43, slammed the ruling.
“While this legal setback has yet to sink in and while we are still making heads or tails of the Resolution, we cannot help but feel frustrated that a matter of reality such as our being counsel to them from Day One, which fact practically everybody knows, can be obliterated by the legal fiction that we were supposedly not their counsel to start with,” the lawyers’ group said.
The NUPL said that the Sandiganbayan ruling also impacts on whether legal remedies are available to those whose rights have been violated.
“After almost a decade since their illegal arrest, torture and detention, this is what the scarred Morong 43 ended up with,” NUPL said.
They added that decision sends a message that “security forces can blatantly obstruct, prevent, prohibit or deny the right to counsel of illegally persons held incommunicado from their family, friends and lawyers.” — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from The STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo